Is Critical Race Theory, well, Critical?

Ceci Davis

Critical Race Theory, or CRT for short, has been met with a load of controversy from boards of education, school districts, parents, youth, and regular citizens. But what is it exactly and how does it affect us, students?

Critical race theory is a legal and academic framework that was developed in the 1970s as a way to talk about race and racism in America. It has 5 main concepts, referred to as tenets, that redesign how we look at race in this country. The five tenets are as follows: 1) Race is a social construct created and used to oppress people of color, 2) racism is still rampant in America (and elsewhere) and is present in the day-to-day lives of most people of color, 3) social reforms for greater equality are only done when beneficial to whites, known as “interest convergence”, 4) no individual fits into one specific group or category, their identity is complex and layered, 5) minority voices give a more accurate and realistic narrative about themselves, their cultures and needs than the dominating group, know as “counter-story telling”. 

CRT acknowledges that there is still a problem of racism deeply intertwined within our country, and believes that instead of denying it altogether, it should be recognized and talked about, and only once this has happened can we move forward, because ignoring something does not mean that it is resolved. 

As a white middle-class kid, I wasn’t really aware of racism growing up. Being someone who benefits from the system we all function in, I didn’t have to see the effects of racial discrimination. However, as I grew up and began to learn about the major issues still present today, I came to understand how important education is when it comes to racism, discrimination, and segregation. 

I doubt there are many people who believe that education is unimportant. If you were to walk down the street and stop anyone, they wouldn’t deny it. Education shapes our understanding of the world, it teaches us to think critically, creatively, and thoughtfully. This is done at an age when we are still open to the possibilities of the world. It provides a different perspective on society, peoples, and ideas, more than our provincial worldviews formed from where and who we grow up with. It supplies a more concrete and versatile view of the world. 

It is a place set aside to learn, and from a young age, it is important to talk about what is going on in our lives and the lives of those around us. It is significant to learn of the hardships others face, to know of problems that should be fixed, and to learn about the differing realities of people we meet. With all of this understanding, broader mindsets are formed.

This is why it is critical to acknowledge and learn about the problems of racism within our system. But where are these problems exactly? 

Racial discrimination is prevalent in various places in society, some of which include the education system, health care system, employment, and the prison industrial system. The system is laced with so much racism it wouldn’t be allowed to be served at a high school dance. But don’t take my word for it – let’s look at the facts. 

Education: According to the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, black students in the 2015-2016 school year were 35% of suspended students, 44% of students who got suspended more than once, and 36% of students who got expelled, while only making up 15% of total student enrollment for the school year. However, according to the study, this was “not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color”. 

Healthcare: PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, states that black babies are more likely to die at birth delivered by a white doctor than when delivered by a black doctor. A study conducted by the national center for health statistics shows that black women die 2 ½ more often than white women during childbirth. 

Employment: In a study performed at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, job applicants are 50% more likely to receive a callback from the employer if they have a traditionally white-sounding name rather than a non-white-sounding name.

Prison Industrial System: The NAACP has shown that there are similar rates of drug use between Black Americans and white Americans, however, it is 6 times more likely that Black Americans will be arrested/incarcerated if in possession or intoxicated. Another study by the NAACP shows that 56% of people incarcerated in the US are Black or Hispanic, even though these minorities only make up 32% of the population. 

Though most of these facts have only covered racial disparity between black and white Americans, this does not negate the racism that all people of color experience. 

​​ Despite these facts, however, some people may not be convinced that racism is alive and well in our county. This is understandable if one has not yet been educated on the problems people of color face, which is often caused by a lack of discussion in the classroom about these topics.  

When I first started learning about the racism people of color experience, I felt a little confused by everything I didn’t know, and maybe some of you are feeling the same way. You may even feel a little uncomfortable with some of the topics, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

If you feel uncomfortable, know that I am not trying to prove that every individual is intentionally racist. A white doctor delivering a black baby is not purposely being less careful, but because of internalized racism and systemic racism, this is often the case. 

Therefore it is important to be educated on the topic of racism in America in order to combat it. This is where Critical Race Theory comes in, with a curriculum that acknowledges the problems in the US and teaches about them openly, we will begin to build a more equal and inclusive society. This society can only exist when our system’s flaws are recognized and everyone has an understanding of the realities others face, and Critical Race Theory is the place to start.